Saturday, November 28, 2009

God, Life, and Everything - Giving Thanks

I write a column called "God, Life, and Everything" for the Hudson Valley News. The title reflects the broad scope I want to take. Everything in life falls under the eye of God, and if we watch carefully, we can catch a glimpse of God in it all.

I had a note from a Canadian friend recently who said, “You know what I’m thankful for? I’m thankful we already had OUR Thanksgiving in October so we can work off all the food in time for Christmas.” Yes, Canadians stuff themselves silly with turkey, too.

It is sometimes easy for me to forget that Canada even has a Thanksgiving Day, let alone that they do it on the wrong day. Everyone knows the Pilgrims invented Thanksgiving in 1621 and decided it should be the fourth Thursday in November, right? Well, of course not.  

Actually, there’s nothing inherently American about Thanksgiving. Countries around the world have celebrated a day to give thanks to God for the harvest for centuries. After all, the harvest is what it’s all about. In German, they call it Erntedankfest which is roughly translated to “Festival of Thanks for the Harvest.”

The reason all these peoples and places have this feast in the first place is that the harvest meant survival for them (well, for those who lived in colder climates where winter made growing difficult or impossible). It was a way of saying, “Thanks for giving us what we need to make it through the lean times.”

Some might say that we are living in lean times these days. Well, the Pilgrims or other subsistence farmers might disagree. They might point out that strictly speaking, even those of us unfortunate enough to lose our jobs will probably not starve to death. We live in a country where many other things are challenging or just plain wrong, but at that most basic level, it’s not going to be lack of food that will kill us.

It’ll probably be the deer running across the highway. (See last week).
So, the harvest does not really play as big a role in our thanksgiving as it once did. We are mostly urban folks who don’t get where food comes from. We see meat and think it grows wrapped in cellophane and styrofoam. We look at vegetables and forget that they don’t come in frozen plastic bags.  

And while we might lament how far removed we are from the food chain these days, the fact that among our many worries, starving is not one of them should be reason enough to give thanks to God.

Now, I know Thanksgiving is full of traditions. Unlike the Germans who just go to church for Thanksgiving, we Americans tend to gather from all corners and have a big family gathering where we see who can eat the most before popping. Then we watch giant men carrying a little football ram into each other in an effort to make the other ones pop.  

One of Hyde Park’s traditions has always been to have a Thanksgiving Eve ecumenical service, always at a different church in town. Because of a lot of little things blended with difficult scheduling, the local pastors decided we could not have the service this year. Which is too bad because this service is great reminder that Thanksgiving is more than turkey and stuffing and pumpkin pie. It is about appreciating how graced we are to be allowed another year on this earth.

But you know what? You don’t have to have a special service to give thanks. You don’t even need to have a special day. God breathes life into each of anew every day, gives us what we need to do what we need that day. In short, every day is good for giving thanks.

So, whether you’re in Canada or Germany or the USA (or anywhere else on earth), Happy Thanksgiving!